Lithium brine deposits have been generating interest, but what about pegmatite lithium deposits and sedimentary lithium deposits? Learn about them here.
As lithium demand continues to rise, it is useful for investors to gain an understanding of the different lithium deposit types at play.
Lithium is mined from three different deposit types: lithium brine deposits, pegmatite lithium deposits and sedimentary lithium deposits. Each comes with different project requirements, extraction methods and processing times.
Brine deposits, for example, are the most common, accounting for more than half of the world’s lithium resources, but may require longer processing periods. The majority of global lithium production comes from continental lithium brine deposits.
The best example of a continental lithium brine deposit is the 3,000 square kilometer Salar de Atacama in Chile, home to one of the world’s richest deposits of high-grade lithium. You can read more about this deposit type by clicking here.
Pegmatite lithium deposits and sedimentary lithium deposits are also important to know about, and the article below outlines their key characteristics. Scroll on to learn more about their importance today.
Pegmatite lithium deposits
Pegmatite is a coarse-grained intrusive igneous rock formed from crystallized magma below the Earth’s crust. Pegmatite lithium deposits, also known as hard rock lithium deposits, can contain extractable amounts of a number of elements, including lithium, tin, tantalum and niobium.
Lithium in pegmatites is most commonly found in the mineral spodumene, but also may be present in other minerals such as petalite, lepidolite, amblygonite and eucryptite.
Australia, the US, Canada, Ireland, Finland and the Democratic Republic of Congo are known to host pegmatite lithium deposits. The top-producing spodumene pegmatite operation, known as the Greenbushes mine, is located in Australia, and it is owned by Talison Lithium. Talison is controlled 49 percent by China’s Tianqi Lithium (SZSE:002466) and 51 percent by Albemarle (NYSE:ALB).
Also in Australia is mining company Galaxy Resources’ (ASX:GXY) Mount Cattlin spodumene mine, an open-pit mine that rests on a flat-lying pegmatite ore body. The mine is currently at full production levels. In addition, Galaxy holds the James Bay lithium pegmatite project in Quebec, with indicated lithium resources of 40.3 million tonnes grading at 1.4 percent lithium oxide, according to a resource estimate.
Hard rock ore containing lithium is extracted at open-pit or underground mines using conventional mining techniques. The ore is then processed and concentrated using a variety of methods prior to direct use or further processing into lithium compounds.
Extracting pegmatite lithium from hard rock ore is expensive, meaning that such deposits are arguably at a disadvantage compared to brine deposits. However, pegmatite lithium deposits have considerably higher lithium concentrations than brines, so deposits with extremely high lithium values may still be economically viable. The production of other metals, such as tin and tantalum, can also help offset costs.
It is worth noting that hard rock deposits are not subject to the sometimes 12 month long processing times currently seen at some brine deposits.
Sedimentary lithium deposits
Sedimentary rock deposits account for about 8 percent of known global lithium resources, and are found in clay deposits and lacustrine evaporites.
Clay deposits — In clay deposits, lithium is found in the mineral smectite. The most common type of smectite is hectorite, which is rich in both magnesium and lithium. It gets its name from a deposit containing 0.7 percent lithium found in Hector, California.
Many companies are in the research and development phases for their clay deposits, but no companies currently produce lithium from them.
Lacustrine evaporites — The most commonly known form of lithium-containing lacustrine deposit is found in the Jadar Valley in Serbia, for which the lithium- and boron-bearing mineral jadarite is named.
The Jadar deposit, owned by Rio Tinto (NYSE:RIO,LSE:RIO,ASX:RIO), reportedly contains more than 200 million tonnes of lithium. The company claims it is one of the largest lithium deposits worldwide.
Rio Tinto signed a memorandum of understanding with the government of Serbia to fast track the development of the deposit. The project is currently in the prefeasibility stage and could begin construction in 2023 following a final investment decision from Rio Tinto.
Now that you know more about sedimentary and pegmatite lithium deposits, here are some more articles to improve your expertise in the space:
This is an updated version of an article originally published by the Investing News Network in 2012.
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Securities Disclosure: I, Priscila Barrera, hold no direct investment interest in any company or commodity mentioned in this article.